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What is Motor Vehicle Accident Law?

Definition of Motor Vehicle Accident Law

Motor vehicle accident law is a combination of traffic and personal injury law. After an accident, a police officer will take pictures, interview witnesses, and analyze an accident scene to help him piece together what happened. The people involved in the accident will then file claims with their auto insurance companies, who will review the police report and make an initial determination of fault. Depending on your state's auto insurance laws and who is at fault, the auto insurance company may reimburse some of the cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle.

When the damage is severe enough, one person may consider filing a suit against the other drivers. The person who files the lawsuit is known as the "plaintiff," and the person who responds is known as the "defendant." Typically, the defendant's insurance company will cover the cost of defending the lawsuit, as well as any damages the plaintiff may win. Many lawsuits claim that one driver was "negligent," in other words, that driver breached his duty to be a drive safely and within the law, which caused the plaintiff harm.

Terms to Know

  • Negligence: A way to determine who is at fault in an accident.
  • Comparative Negligence: A method of apportioning fault when more than one person caused an accident.
  • Vicarious Liability: A legal theory which apportions blame for an accident to someone who wasn't directly involved. For example, an employer may be vicariously liable for the accidents a driver caused while one the job.
  • Collision Coverage: Automobile insurance coverage that reimburses drivers for the damage sustained in a collision.
  • Comprehensive Coverage: Automobile insurance coverage that reimburses drivers for the damage sustained outside of a collision.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Automobile insurance coverage that reimburses drivers for the damage sustained in a collision with another driver who does not have insurance, or whose insurance coverage is not sufficient to pay for all the damages.

Practice Notes

Many car accident attorneys actually work exclusive in "insurance defense." This means that they have contracted with an insurance company to defend the insurance company clients against lawsuits arising out of car accidents.

However, car accident victims who wish to sue the other parties to the car accident have to hire their own attorneys, which are typically listed as auto accident attorneys, car accident attorneys, or simply "personal injury lawyers." Car accident law can vary by state, so be sure to find a car accident attorney near you using the search tool below.

Related Practice Areas

  • Traffic Law: Drivers who violate traffic laws may be considered "at fault" in traffic accidents.
  • Insurance Law: Insurance companies often end up paying for the damages sustained in automobile accidents.
  • Personal Injury Law: Lawsuits arising out of motor vehicle accidents follow the same rules as personal injury suits.
  • Product Liability: Sometimes, motor vehicle accidents are not caused by drivers, but rather by some defect in the vehicle.
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